Police seek head of giant Italian bank

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ROBERTO MAZZOTTA, a top Christian Democrat politician who became head of the huge Lombardy Savings Bank, is being sought on charges of corruption and receiving stolen funds.

Mr Mazzotta, 53, was said by his staff to be in London on business when Milan 'Clean Hands' corruption magistrates issued an arrest warrant on Monday. His deputy, the former Socialist senator Carlo Polli, and two senior executives were arrested on suspicion of corruption, fraud and abuse of office. The Cassa di Risparmio delle Provincie Lombarde, commonly called Cariplo, is reputed to be the biggest savings bank in the world, and is the biggest bank in Italy in terms of deposits by its customers, which amount to 75.4 trillion lire (pounds 30bn).

Mr Mazzotta and Mr Polli were classic examples of the infiltration of key areas of public life by the old political parties. Mr Mazzotta was a deputy secretary of the dominant Christian Democrat party when, at his own insistence, he was propelled into the post by Ciriaco de Mita, the party's powerful secretary in 1986, in the teeth of objections by the then Governor of the Bank of Italy - and now prime minister - Carlo Azeglio Ciampi.

Mr Ciampi had presented the government with the names of three professional candidates for the post and, according to press reports, had to wait outside the room for three hours while party leaders haggled over the deal that resulted in Mr Mazzotta's appointment.

Mr Mazzotta is agreed to have managed the bank well - it expanded greatly under his command. There is no mention in the warrants of any financial favours for political friends, which is suspected to have been one of the purposes of such infiltration. But he is alleged to have taken huge bribes - apparently destined for his party - from big construction contracts for the Milan underground and airports, and illegal sums to fund the Christian Democrats' election campaigns.

The group is also alleged by builders to have demanded bribes in exchange for the purchase of numerous large buildings on behalf of the bank's pension fund.